Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A New Year, A New Dean

LaurenBenton.jpg Dean Lauren Benton was appointed in September as the new Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science after serving two years as Dean for the Humanities within the Faculty of Arts & Science and three years as the History Department Chair. Prior to NYU, Dean Benton held faculty appointments at Rutgers University, NJIT, the University of Washington, and M.I.T.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Dean Benton about what it's like to be a dean, her current research, the future of the Graduate School, and more.   

Arts & Science Alumni Relations: It must be exciting to go from Dean for the Humanities to Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science. What is your favorite part about being a dean? 

Dean Lauren Benton: The best part of being any sort of dean is getting to facilitate other people’s plans and ideas – and in a university, most of the plans and ideas have to do with scholarship and learning. You get to talk with people about their scholarship while working on ways to help them do it better, or in better circumstances. It’s always interesting, and it can be rewarding when new ideas take shape. And it must be said that NYU is a fun place to be a dean. Everyone I work with is smart and capable, and everyone has a good sense of humor.  

As a dean, have you ever learned any unexpected lessons or been opened up to a new perspective of the university? 
I learn something new every day. As someone who comes out of a humanities and social science background, I learn from science faculty and students how their fields work and what’s involved in their research. I learn from students across the disciplines about what is on the cutting edge of their fields – graduate students know this better than anyone. As a faculty member, I’ve always enjoyed teaching graduate students – both master’s and doctoral students – and in my role as dean it’s a huge pleasure to have contact with many more students from outside my own field.  
What sorts of changes do you think will take place over the next decade at the Graduate School of Arts and Science? 
Graduate education in the next decade will be affected by broader shifts in the global economy, hiring trends for faculty as changes in undergraduate education take place, and changes within research itself. The only way to prepare to meet these challenges is by focusing on how to do what we already do better. The Graduate School is working on ways to gather and disseminate news more quickly to students, using the right mix of old and new forms of communications. We’re working with others at the university to track changes in career opportunities and devise better ways to get that information to students. And we’ll continue to help students move through their programs smoothly and at a good pace. I know there is a lot of talk about a crisis of higher education in the United States, but I’m convinced that the core activities of graduate schools will be here in recognizable forms for a long time.  
Are there any new developments within the graduate school that alumni might find interesting? 
I always think that the most interesting thing going on at the university is the research we’re doing. We love to help alumni keep up with news from their programs and learn about new research. Some of the other new developments in the graduate school have to do with NYU’s global sites. We have graduate students in degree programs in London, Paris, Madrid, and Florence, and students in New York programs have opportunities to travel to other sites, either as researchers or so they can participate in dissertation workshops. Some graduate programs in New York are now developing ways for students to conduct research or study in our new portal campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai.  
What would you say is your main area of academic research, and do you still find the time to pursue it outside of work? 
My research is on the history of colonialism, in particular the history of law in European empires, and I am an active scholar. I have a book coming out this summer, and I just started writing a new book with an Australian historian on law in the British Empire in the nineteenth century. I get to teach and advise a wonderfully talented group of graduate students in the History Department, including both doctoral and master’s students. I don’t plan on giving up either research or teaching – both are too much fun.  
Have you read any good books lately? 
I’m always part way through a pile of history books and a novel or two. Right now I’m reading a book written by one of our alumni from the History Department about mahogany and how it was produced, traded, and consumed in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. I’m also reading a novel by Annie Dillard called The Living that is set in the area around Bellingham, Washington, in the nineteenth century. I used to live in the Northwest and I like historical fiction, so for me it’s a very good read.  
Do you have a favorite lunch spot in the village? 
Marumi’s, on Laguardia Place. Great sushi.

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